This distinction is not of my making; it comes from one of the most eminent members of our Commission. If, despite my previous interventions and notes, I am returning to this point, it is because I believe that, at this hour which is so decisive for the Church and the world, our Commission would be failing in its mission if it did not highlight the “formally secular” lay apostolate of lay people.
Without this, the materially apostolate of lay people will not only be inadequate but it may also be harmful to lay people themselves as well as to the Church as a whole.
Purpose and necessity
1. The material apostolate of lay people is that which all the faithful are called to exercise (priests, religious and lay people); it is the apostolate of prayer, suffering, liturgy, catechesis, charity, etc.
2. The formally lay apostolate of lay people is the apostolate proper to them. No one will be able to exercise it in their place and the world will not be evangelised in all its dimension if they fail to take it on themselves; it is irreplaceable. It is essential to the Church and complementary to the apostolate of the priesthood.
3. The formally lay apostolate of lay people is increasingly important for the future of humanity. Because it is their apostolate embedded and lived out in their secular life (family, social, cultural, political), in the milieux of their lives, and in the problems and structures of temporal life (technical, scientific, economic, etc.) As Pius XII said,
“the Church today more than ever needs young workers (lay people) to valiantly build, in joy and in difficulty, in successes and trials, the world as God wants it, a fraternal society in which the suffering of the most humble will be shared and alleviated. May your apostolate therefore be exercised in a perspective of universality and always, as appropriate, in filial submission to the ecclesiastical hierarchy; may it find there the source of its effectiveness and of its fidelity to the intentions of Christ.”
And he continued:
“This is in order for lay people to become Catholics in the full sense of the term, that is to say… members of the Christian community, fulfilling a task of their own that is indispensable to the community, its life and balance.1
4. The necessity and importance of this formally lay apostolate, as well as formation for this apostolate of their own cannot be emphasised and insisted on enough. The experience developed over the past 50 years, the results of which can be seen, proves the value and effectiveness of this apostolate.
Those priests who, with perseverance and humility, have loyally tried it out, are unanimous in saying that becoming aware of and remaining faithful to this apostolate develops an unparalleled dynamism, conviction, fervour, and spirit of sacrifice in the religious life of lay people; it gives them a sense of pride in their Christianity and a desire to commit themselves which gives rise to the greatest efforts and hopes.
Finally, in my opinion, the formally lay apostolate of lay people remains the only positive response to materialism, liberalism and secularism, the separation of religion from real life, and from the problems most deeply felt and experienced by lay people.
Lay people themselves are deeply aware of the need for this apostolate and there is an increasing number who desire to commit themselves to this even at the cost of great sacrifices. They are also aware of the need for formation training and support inherent in this mission which is unique to them and they are concerned that they usually fail to get any response to this from the clergy responsible.
This is why I would like the documents on this subject to be revised. Instead of a formulation which seems to minimise the mission of lay people in the Church and which is merely negative – “neither priests nor religious”… “ordinary, common members” (1.0.3, p.4, paragraph 3) – on the contrary, words should be used that value the active presence and task of lay people in the Church.
For example, we could say: “Lay people are those members of the Church who are called to build the world of tomorrow as God wishes it and as Christ merited it; who, by their very lives, need to transform the world with the spirit of Christ; and who are invited to become witnesses and collaborators of Christ in this world through their life and their action.”
All this is said in the document, but scattered in various places and as if in passing, in the midst of many other considerations on “the material apostolate of lay people.” I would like this to be strongly emphasised, to have an impact both on lay people as well as all those – priests, men and women religious – who are responsible for educating lay people for their proper and irreplaceable apostolate.
1. It is here that I would like a request to be made that a Dicastery be appointed for the implementation of this apostolic conception of the mission of lay people in the Church, at all levels and in all “formally lay” aspects, i.e. family, professional, political and social, etc. This body should also be responsible for encouraging the formation for lay people, which is essential for this apostolate, both in method and organisation.
The conception and functioning of this institution needs be studied with the greatest care in order to always safeguard and develop – both in formation and apostolic action – the dynamism that ceaselessly begins from the grassroots of the Church and rises to the top under the irresistible inspiration and impulse of the Holy Spirit, who enabled Christ to say: “I thank you, Father, because you have revealed these marvels to the little and the humble, while you hide them to the wise and the skilful…” (Lk. 10, 21).
2. Finally, I would like the Commission to respond to the expectations of many lay people involved in the apostolate of the Church and are requesting the Council to solemnly confirm the value that the Church recognises in their formally lay apostolate and its desire to see them become more and more involved in this apostolate.
Jos. CARDIJN, 8 March, 1962.
1Speech to the International YCW, 25 August, 1957
Cardijn Archives 1577
Joseph Cardijn, Note 15: The formally and materially lay apostolate of lay people (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)